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Paul Zimmerman
January 30, 1989
The 49ers' Joe Montana knocked the Bengals cold with a spectacular late rally in the Super Bowl
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January 30, 1989

Joe Cool

The 49ers' Joe Montana knocked the Bengals cold with a spectacular late rally in the Super Bowl

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Rice, whose 11 catches tied one Super Bowl record and whose 215 yards broke another, was voted the game's MVP. Coawards wouldn't have been a bad idea.

In the winning locker room, corner-back Eric Wright dumped a bucket of ice water on Niner owner Eddie DeBartolo. and tight end John Frank lifted DeBartolo off the ground in a bear hug and carried him 10 feet, bonking DeBartolo's head on defensive end Larry Roberts's locker. Even NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle was caught up in the euphoria: "Eddie DeBartolo, coach Bill Walsh, you and the great Cincinnati team gave us the finest of our 23 Super Bowls. I don't think there is any question about that."

You could feel the relief dripping off Rozelle's words. For two days early in the week Miami had been a very bad scene. On the night of Monday, Jan. 16, in the predominantly black section of Overtown, a policeman shot and killed a speeding black motorcyclist. Another black man, a passenger on the motorcycle, would die a day later from injuries suffered when the bike crashed. All hell broke loose in Overtown, and the next night the rioting spread to Liberty City, another black area (see page 9).

On the fringes of this madness stood the Super Bowl. The 49ers were billeted at the Miami Airport Hilton and Marina, a showy place eight miles from the rioting and at the end of a half-mile drive bordering a lagoon. Brightly plumed parrots greeted visitors at the door. But the Bengals, who were staying at the Omni International Hotel downtown, were only half a dozen blocks from Overtown. They could see the fires from their rooms. They were advised to stay indoors. "I feel like I'm being held hostage," said strength coach Kim Wood.

Super Bowl week, with its lush parties and endless interview sessions, had become a bad joke. "What's going on out there is life," said Cincinnati quarterback Boomer Esiason. "It makes you ask yourself, 'What does football really matter?' "

The inevitable question was asked: Was the NFL right in secluding its most glamorous representatives from the turmoil around them, or should the league have recruited some players to try to temper the violence through appearances and appeals? "It's no place for the NFL or its players," said Bengal guard Max Montoya. "It's a deeply rooted problem for the city, a lot deeper than football. I don't think you can throw an NFL blanket over it and try to calm it down. They don't know us. When you're talking about a life-and-death situation, an NFL badge isn't going to mean much."

"Frankly I was waiting to be asked, and I would have welcomed the chance to do something to help," said Frank. "It just shows how skewed our values are, how much we isolate pro football. Every year, though, you see guys busted when the game is over for them, guys with no place to go. Yes, I'd have wanted to help. Maybe I was the wrong person for it, being white, but I know there are black guys on our team like Eric Wright and Keena Turner and Roger Craig who would have done something."

Someone asked Frank if it was really logical to expect players to tear themselves away from preparing for something that was, to them, the most significant event of the year, maybe of their careers, especially with coaches constantly hammering away about the need to maintain concentration.

"Maybe not toward the end of the week," Frank said, "but in the beginning it wouldn't have mattered."

Even the football aspects of the week had a downside—the lingering rumor that this would be Niner coach Bill Walsh's last game, the hints that league officials were planning to tone down? Cincy coach Sam Wyche's no-huddle offense and, finally, the Sunday morning announcement from the NFL that the Bengals' backup fullback, Stanley Wilson, a key man in their short-yardage offense, had been suspended from the game because of a drug violation (see page 9). The game started with two strikes against it, and it clearly would take a memorable evening to erase the negatives.

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